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ERITREA: Two UN Workers Hurt In Landmine Explosion
By Jack Kimball

06 December 2006, ASMARA, (Reuters) - Two U.N. contractors were seriously injured when their car struck a newly laid anti-tank mine last month near the tense Eritrea-Ethiopia border, the United Nations said on Wednesday.

The world body does not know who planted the device, but it was the eighth incident this year involving a newly laid mine on a road previously cleared of explosives.

"It just highlights that there is a threat to the mission. Although there is a risk, we try and manage," said David Bax, programme manager at the U.N. Mine Action Coordination Centre in the Ethiopia-Eritrea peacekeeping mission.

The blast happened on Nov. 8 in the middle of the main road from Tsorena to Forto, inside the Temporary Security Zone (TSZ), which acts as a buffer between Eritrea and Ethiopia.

Two contractors working for the South African company Mechem were wounded. They have since been repatriated.

Asmara and Addis Ababa fought a 1998-2000 border war in which more than 70,000 people were killed. The TSZ was set up as part of a 2000 peace deal ending the conflict.

A U.N. peacekeeping force monitors the 1,000-km (600-mile) border separating the two nations.

The area is littered with tens of thousands of landmines from three conflicts dating back to the Second World War.

"In the first few months of the mission, we made the assessment that these were mines from the war ... as the mission developed and we started to get a better understanding of the situation, we realized that not all these mines were old mines," he told Reuters.

Last year, there were 10 mine incidents on main roads, including one which hit a bus killing one person and wounding 19 others.

"We've had a variety of numbers from five in some years to up to 20 in other years," Bax said.

"There has only been one type of mine laid, and the question of who laid them is very difficult to answer," he said, adding that incidents happen on both sides of the border.

Both sides agreed to let an independent commission decide where their border should be, but Ethiopia rejected the April 2002 ruling and the stalemate has grown more tense.

The commission gave both countries until November 2007 to physically mark the border or risk having it set for them on maps.


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